Monday, May 27, 2013

Repost, because it's just so fitting.

I still need to write the last post in my Iraq trip recap, but with school and holiday weekends and everything else, I just haven't had time yet. I have, however, continued to have some ridiculous days where I can't even believe how many little things can go weird which always reminds me of the tagline on this blog so I figured I'd repost this until I can get back to writing on here. Enjoy. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What's with Today, today?

So, obviously I love this quote, since it's my tagline. And for those of you who have not seen the movie Empire Records, it's from a scene where one of the characters asks another, "what's WITH you today??" and he replied (in a dreamy/stoner "higher level of thinking" sort of way) "what's with TODAY, today?..." Which makes me laugh and it fits perfectly with my life because I so often get caught in the throws of Murphy's Law and think "what is HAPPENING to me today??"

Like yesterday!

I was working from home and planned to attend a large meeting at a fancy hotel nearby at 4:00pm. But, per usual, I'm trying to answer one more email and take one more call before heading out. And I'm hungry, and I'm in my weekly race with my groceries where I have to eat meals like - a cup of milk, a bottle of acai juice, something involving bread, and a zuchini, before all those things spoil simulataneously.

Yesterday's concerning food items were my sweet potatoes.

So I'm "baking" (microwaving) one to throw brown sugar on and eat on the way, and I'm still on a call, still on my email, and someone tells me they want to have a call with me at 4:30.

Fine. I'll go into my meeting, then slip out and take the call.

Then I realize it's 10 minutes until 4:00. And the evening proceeds roughly as follows:

3:50: I'm driving too fast WHILE EATING A SWEET POTATO, and trying to stay cool with Air Conditioning because I do NOT want to have to wash this dress after wearing it for just a couple hours. And I have to find the hotel. And I can't find it. Then I do find it, find parking, and get out to pay the meter.

4:06: my wallet vomits coins all inside my purse.

Backstory: the day before yesterday, I was cleaning out a purse and found a TON of change in the bottom, so I put it in my wallet, FORCE the wallet closed, and plan to move it to the change pouch I have in my car. And I think to myself "this is totally a bad plan and this thing is going to burst open and dump in my OTHER purse"... 


4:07 I pay the meter, start sweating (No! My Dress!!!) and walk back down the mound of dirt around one of the trees lining the sidewalk, towards my car.

4:08 I fall down that mound of dirt.

Slide down it really, it was pretty much in slow motion - you know, so the MAXIMUM amount of people around could catch the sight.

4:09 I get up, stifle laughter, grab my stuff and head towards the hotel. And I look down just to make sure my dress hasn't like POPPED OPEN or something in the fall.

And it IS untied.

But nothing drastic, I'm still half-way presentable, and I still have faith it will make it another wear before washing. So I re-tie and enter the hotel.

4:13 I see a registration table for an event. And before I reach the table, I'm already loudly asking "Is this for [name of event]?" and the lady WHISPERS! that it is.

Oooooh. The door BESIDE that table leads to the event.

And it's open.

4:20 Dana just now walks into her 4:00 event...after possibly announcing her own presence.

4:21 I sit, try not to make too much noise, bend down to change out of my "walking flip flops" into my heels -

and see dirt all over the side of my foot.

Craaaaap. I had looked at my DRESS but forget to check my SKIN after that fall.

Thankfully, dirt was NOT covering my entire leg, like I then assumed it was. And I think, again, "it's ok, I'm STILL half-way presentable, it's fine." And I proceed to pay attention to the meeting -- except every few minutes I have to stifle laughter again because I get an image of myself falling down that stupid dirt mound.

And then I get an email that my 4:30 call is now at 6:30. Excellent! Now I don't have to walk right back out- the day is looking up!

6:00 The event ends, and I go up to talk to a senior manager, then I hit the restroom, where I glance at the mirror:

And it looks like I have a faint black eye.

Apparently, in my haste to put on eye shadow, I didn't realize some of it had fallen under my eye. Lovely, now my manager thinks I've recently been in a fist fight. Forget it! I'm going to Target....

6:30 I call my 4:30 call in the parking lot of Target - and get a voicemail.

6:31 I go IN Target, because I need something.

6:35 somewhere in the Sports Bras, my 4:30 call -calls.

Oh HI! Sure, this is still a great time to talk! No, no there are NOT people shopping for bras next to me, that's just silly...

And the call goes fine, the lady never actually realizes I'm in Target, and all is well. And I stop to get gas on my way home.

And the gas tank doesn't work.

So I'm sweating again, and pull into ANOTHER tank, get out, and get gas.

7:06 I realize - this dress is SO going in the wash....

7:15 I finally get home and decide to replace the belt on my vacuum. Then I burn the new belt immediately. Then put ANOTHER one on.

And start to suck up a TENNIS. SHOE.

The vacuum grabbed the lace and started trying to EAT IT, then started SMOKING before I could even hit the Off button. Which left my apartment smelling like burnt rubber, and left me wondering:

What was WITH today??

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Iraq Part 6 - Dohuk

We had to go the long way around to our next city because the direct route would've taken us through Kirkuk, outside of the Kurdish controlled region, and subjected us to possible deportation for not having Iraq-proper visas.

Kirkuk started experiencing regular bombings shortly after we left and at one point, the Peshmerga - the Kurdish Army - lined up against Iraqi forces there as well. Thankfully things have calmed down again a bit but, yikes...

We drove through rain and mud and it cleared just in time for us to have the picnic that some of our friends had spent all morning preparing.

So good.

After we arrived in Dohuk, we learned we were very close to a large refugee camp for fleeing Syrians (Kurdistan now has over 100,000 refugees that they are taking care of.) Our host inquired about us taking supplies to the camp and we were finally told that the reason we weren't being allowed in is because there had been an "incident" with Americans there recently. The crowd was just too large and too desperate to risk us being overwhelmed by people. And this camp was one of the better organized and well run ones around. It's untelling what kind of conditions Syrians are facing in other camps and in other countries who don't have the resources available that Kstan does.

Then we learned a few of us would be visiting a local family of "orphans" (there, if you have lost the male head of the house, you are considered orphans even if you still live with your mother. Women just don't have much opportunity in society without a male so your lot in life feels very limiting if you lose your husband - which so many did under Saddam.) We would be riding out to a village with friends of our hosts.

Which meant we technically left our hosts. Which was fine, I knew our hosts would never send us off with anyone unless they completely trusted those people and we had hung out with these other people already, they were awesome. However, I have yet to mention our group included --

a 16 year old boy.

Which is funny because - who takes a 16 year old to Iraq for vacation? Even a man we all know who had just entered Syria -- illegally -- on his own the week before showed shock when we told him we brought a kid with us. "You brought a sixteen year old ...to Iraq???"

Eh, he had a relative on the trip.

Yet even that relative wasn't in the car with us as we were whisked out to a village. So as I looked behind me at The Boy who was riding in the back of the car, I'll never forget his huge eyes peering at me and the other two people from our team and him softly informing us that he was "memorizing the route we were taking just in case something went down and we needed to find our way back..."

ha! Can't blame him.

We were fine, of course. And the experience was amazing. The kids we hung out with ranged in ages from a few months old to late teens and they talked about what they wanted to be when they grew up, what they did for fun, etc. At one point we were all asked what we did and one of the girls on my team was about to join the Navy as a pilot. Not wanting to mention the U.S. military, she simply replied that she was going to work with planes.

To which our hosts asked "Oh, and will you be bombing Iraq soon?"

Us: "ha!...ha...heh heh..um....."  nervous laughter, embarrassed sideway glances at each other like "well -? I guess you never knooooow....."

And our hosts roared with laughter. Oh good! Phew! They are in on the joke!

Another funny moment came at a dinner days later when someone on my team asked a question like, "where are the drums?" and another host replied "Oh, I thought you said 'where are the drones' ...and I was going to say -- shouldn't you guys know that?...." Ha! Iraq has a good sense of humor....good thing....

Below are some pics of the village. I love how the girl's room we saw was complete with celebrity posters on the wall, just like we do in the U.S.

We walked around with them and had coffee and kissed their cheeks multiple times (I could never decode the kissing regimen in that country. Sometimes it was 4 kisses, sometimes 3, sometimes twice on each cheek, sometimes once on each-- it got embarrassing to the point where I just kind of let my face hang out there for as long as the other person continued to look like they were going in....)

Then we headed back to our group. We did other things in Dohuk, like visit a Christian-run Daycare who actually received funding from the government (proving how progressive that area seems to be getting with regards to different religions) and walked through the ruins of a village bombed by Saddam that was just now starting to be rebuilt. And then we headed back to Erbil to end our trip (and I experienced one of my most exciting car rides on that journey back, which I'll describe next post).

Adorable kid at Daycare

Family we visited in the village

Family's donkey who a girl on our trip tried to give medical advice for....don't ask...

sunset at village

remains of a bombed village

So many options....

just sittin' alongside the road, having a picnic...in Iraq....

pic I took on the sly in the Minister of Tourism's office....right before he ordered an official photo with us anyway. I felt crafty for one minute anyway....

Monday, May 13, 2013

Iraq part 5

Before we left Sulay, there was one other thing that sticks out in my mind. One of the churches there all came together to hang out with us

We saw this all over the country. People creating events just because we were in town. People spending hours preparing special meals for us so we could all have picnics together and be honored. The Minister of Tourism in one of the cities invited our entire group into his office because he was so excited that such a “large” (10 of us) group of Americans were touring his country. And even the Arab youth we spent time with came out in their Jli Kurdi -traditional kurdish dress for special occasions - (some having to fight with their parents to do so because it was technically a day of mourning for the Halabja attack anniversary) to show us honor and to spend time with us.

Anyway, it was at one of these impromptu gatherings in our honor that we got to spend time with more Christian believers. We sat on someone’s floor (because that’s how most living areas are there – no furniture. You sit on cushions on the floor and eat on plastic on the floor as well. Which, I might actually adopt given the table then becomes the garbage can at the end of the meal and the only “clean up” you have is folding everything up and tossing the entire thing out!) and we all broke into smaller circles to pray together and get to know each other.

There were people there from all over. Americans who had married Kurds, a UK missionary, a political refugee from Iran, etc. It was so incredibly beautiful to see everyone translating for everyone else (people there may speak Arabic, Kurdish, Farsi, tribal dialects… it gets ridiculous to watch communication) and to see an Iraqi with his arm slung around an Iranian, praying with him. Or to have an Irish man translate the Kurdish prayer requests into English for us and vice versa. And to hear a lot of the Iraqis pray not for themselves, but for their country. Such a sense of community there versus the individualistic sense we Americans grow up with.

We were told to say one thing we were thankful for and one thing that was bothering us. Mine blended into each other and I couldn’t finish saying what I was thankful for before I was bawling about what was bothering me. I explained that I was thankful just to be there with them and see their faith because I needed a boost in my own faith because I was still mad at God over something that happened a while ago.

Anyway, I pulled it together and we all prayed and moved on to the next person (and I distinctly remember one of them saying they were thankful they still had both parents. Once again, a reminder how many people there lost parents to Saddam’s campaign against the Kurds.) And when the prayer time ended and we all stood up to go eat, one of the Iraqi men in my circle pointed to me and said “You – Psalm 23 is for you.”

I was struck by that. A man in a country that my country fought in recently, a man who undoubtedly has seen so much horror, and I’ve seen so much blessing and protection, and he is smiling, boldly giving me encouragement. 

And when something like that happens, it also feels like affirmation that God sees me. That even though I so don’t “agree” with the way He’s doing things in my life sometimes, that at least I have reminders that He’s present, that he sees me. 

I got an even bigger confirmation of that, that night when my group came together to discuss the day. As I was walking back to my hotel room, one of our group leaders – we’ll call him john -  pulled me aside and said he had something to share with me. Being a kid who was sent to the principal’s office more than once in my childhood, this always makes me think I’m in trouble…

Thankfully, that wasn’t it. He starts to tell me that a group of people at our church back in DC had said a prayer over him before we left the states. And he asks me if I know this one girl, and I don’t because our church is spread over 7 different locations and has thousands of members so there are many people I never lay eyes on. Anyway, this girl started crying while everyone was praying and she just tells ‘john’ “I see one of the girls on your team sitting on the floor, crying, broken…”

And that’s it. Nothing else, no explanation. She’d never seen me before either and of course ‘John’ had no idea what she was referring to. But he told me that the first night we were in Iraq, he saw me tear up as I was talking with the group about why I wanted to come on the trip (clearly, I can’t explain that without crying apparently) so he thought about that vision that the girl told him but he said I was sitting in a chair, so it wasn’t totally the same. But then that morning, he said he looked over and there I was, sitting on the floor, crying, broken.

Do I know what it all means? No. And trust me, I asked if there was anything else to that vision – aka Hello! Was there a point where I was no longer broken? Cuz that’d be nice to hear! – but God is frustratingly funny that way and typically doesn’t give away the whole picture at once. What it did do, however, was give me more affirmation that God sees me. He made a girl who doesn’t know me, see me. And see me on a trip I hadn’t taken yet. And that was moving in itself. I don’t think I’ve ever been in someone’s vision before.... (except maybe in the nightmares of the people who report to me at work....but I digress.)

Anyway, there’s more to my own ‘broken’ situation than I’ll go into here, and more than most people even on my trip know. And in weird ways Iraq has been woven into my life for the last decade so this whole experience is one trippy, intricate thing of different parts of my life that I definitely don’t fully understand, but again, it helped just to get a sign at all. That God sees me, that he isn’t absent. Just hiding temporarily perhaps.

Anyway, the fact that I was in a country where visions are so prevalent when I was told that I myself was part of a vision beforehand back in my own country was really crazy to me.

Moving on! I know these posts are heavier than my norm so never fear, there were funny parts too. Next up – we head to the city of Dohuk.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Iraq part...4? Still Sulay

I'm finding it hard again to even start explaining more about our trip because I feel like we saw so much, so this will all come tumbling out, stream-of-conscience style per usual or else I'll never get done with these posts. 

Things I remember from Sulymaniyah...(or "Sulay" for short):

Being within an hour away from Halabja on the 25th Anniversary of the horrific gas bomb attacks that killed thousands there. You can read a little of that day HERE. Saddam sent shells in to break windows so that later that day, the gas he ordered to be dropped there would fill the houses even more.

It smelled like apples so kids breathed it in deeply. 

It covered the city and the escape routes so there was little way of salvation. 

It melted people’s eyes....

We saw photographs of the aftermath in the basement of the Red House, the former headquarters of Saddam's Ba'athist party. (I couldn't find a good wiki page for the Red House but did find this blog which included a lot of the details we were told while we toured there, so I'm including it if you want to learn more) The Red House was a torture center/ prison that was preserved fairly untouched and is now a museum. 

The buildings were riddled with bullet holes and soviet era tanks filled the grounds

Everything was left as it was back when Saddam ruled, including the pillows and blankets on the cell floors

We were able to tour this place with a man who had himself been in a similar torture center and could tell us exactly what takes place at these things. He had been taken by Saddam’s soldiers in the middle of the night because they thought he was someone else. They kept him in solitary confinement – only being let out to be put through various means of torture – for 6 months before finally he was basically told “woops, guess you aren’t who we thought you were. You can go back but if you mention this to anyone, we’ll kill you.”

That was one thing that struck me. You couldn’t talk about anything back then. People in Sulay told us that even after they realized what was happening in Halabja, they couldn’t talk about it. You just had to live with this knowledge of such severe suffering, and fear of it coming to you, but you couldn’t act like anything was wrong. Because if you looked the wrong way, you’d be captured and tortured too. Or shot. 

While we were in the Red House compound, we were shown barbed wire on the top of the fence around it. Our guide told us Iraqi soldiers used to stand watch and if people across the street even looked at the compound, they could be shot.

(I just can’t imagine living under such fear all the time. It’s no wonder people describe that region as a whole people group suffering from PTSD.)

walking into one of the confinement rooms
The solitary confinement cells that we saw in the Red House were tiny holes with one tiny window at the top. We saw scribbling on the walls where prisoners tried to combat insanity by drawing or writing. Me and Caleb, another guy from my group, ended up lingering to stare longer into one of the cells when we saw an Iraqi man showing his friend specific markings on one of the walls. He saw us and excitedly said “I was here! I was in here years ago! I wrote on this wall!”

My stomach felt ill. We were looking right at one of the men who – likely for no reason – had spent time in this very terrible place.

Caleb and I rushed back to locate our group that had already moved on, both fighting back tears as we each stared into space trying to imagine that man’s experience here.

We passed under barbed wire, next to walls made specifically to be rough so that when prisoners were thrown against them, their skin would be scratched to pieces.

And we were taken into various torture chambers where our tour guide would explain exactly what would happen – because he’d been through it. The one that stood out the most to me was this room:

Where our guide proceeded to tell us that’s exactly how he was suspended in his own chamber – while they electrictuted his genitals so he couldn’t reproduce.

This is a man who was later told “oh yeah, guess you weren’t the guy we thought. Sorry!”


(But praise the Lord, he ended up having three sons anyway J I love that so much....)

And you might be thinking “yeah right, how do you know this stuff really happened?” And I felt skeptical at times myself. But between me asking one of our American friends who has lived in Kurdistan for a decade, and hearing story after story after story from people who don’t know each other who all have similar experiences, I can tell you I’m convinced. And astounded. And like I said, these people are happy. They have hope. They talk about their own future plans and the bright future of the Kurdistan and Iraq they believe in.

And I guess that’s new there. Our host told us just a few years ago when she would ask those kids at the English learning center we hung out with what they hoped for in the future, they’d say “nothing. This place will never get better. I don’t have plans.”

But when we talked to them, we heard “I want to be an engineer” or a “lawyer” or “doctor.” We also saw pride in their eyes for their country as they eagerly asked us what we thought about it. I just saw a quote about the Red House that helps sum up so much of what we experienced in Iraq, "...loathing at what humans can do to each other and pride at how humans can persevere and fight back..."
(quote, and additional reading, from here)

We would continue to feel that juxtaposition on the rest of trip. More in the next post. 

Memorial inside the Red House. Each piece of glass representing one of the hundreds of thousands of victims under Saddam. Each light bulb representing one of the 5,400 Kurdish villages destroyed.